Close encounter with a ferry

Report Text:

We were proceeding under engine power on a clear sunny day in the final stages of a voyage from the N coast of Mallorca to the S coast of Menorca when I spotted just forward of the beam a ferry leaving the coast as it cleared Ciutadella in Menorca travelling towards Mallorca. The vessel was also identified on Automatic Identfication System. Our yacht can receive but not transmit AIS. The weather was clear with excellent visibility on a smooth sea and I was able to watch the vessel from the time it left the coast and I tracked it visually and on AIS. The AIS indicated a CPA of about 0.2 miles. Our yacht was heading 104° true at 5.5 knots. The ferry was heading approximately 240° true on my port quarter.

As it came closer the CPA decreased and the ship’s speed was around 20 knots (AIS) (maybe a little more). From my log I altered to starboard initially but was not clearing the ferry. We had crossed on 086T from an anchorage at Cala S. Vincent in Mallorca and our destination was Cala Santa Galdana in Menorca.

As the ferry continued to close at speed it became obvious that the ferry would pass very close so I tried to contact it on VHF Channel 16 but received no reply. The ferry had plenty of room to pass either ahead or astern but seemed to head straight for the yacht. Due to its speed a close quarters situation rapidly developed and as the ferry was heading directly for the yacht I had few options as I can only make 6knots. An alteration to port would leave me close on its port side with a danger of it altering to starboard, an alteration to starboard would leave me in the ferries path. In the end I applied full throttle, cleared across the bow of the ferry and altered to port once passed. The ferry passed approximately 100m up my port side. Again I tried to contact via VHF Channel 16 but received no reply. The ferry made no course alterations despite being the give-way vessel. I also got the impression that a watch was not being kept on the ferry though I could not see onto the bridge to be sure.

CHIRP Comment

The Maritime Advisory Board when reviewing this hazardous incident report, had sympathy with the reporter’s predicament in taking early and substantial action to avoid a small CPA to a fast moving vessel. They believe there could be similarities between this report and that addressing the sinking of the yacht Ouzo, see UK’s MAIB report 7/2007. As a result of the ferry company’s failure to respond to the report, and due to the severity of the report, the Flag State authority was informed of the failure to maintain a proper lookout and listening watch on VHF Channel 16.

The Maritime Advisory Board also brings to the attention of all leisure users, the following advice:

(a) Yachts often do not show up on a radar screen beyond about 5 miles, the radar wave passes through the GRP structure and reflects off the far side of the depression made in the water by the hull, then beyond that distance they do not show up on a radar screen due to a combination of too shallow an angle between the radar beam and the sea surface, interceptions from waves in front of the target and a reduction in signal strength according to the inverse square rule. When closer to the vessel, the yacht may be difficult to detect on the radar screen due to wave clutter.

(b) Radar reflectors have limited effect in improving the ability to enhance identification (RYA web site, MCA Marine Guidance Note M394 Carriage and Use of Radar Reflectors on Small Vessels paragraph 4.3).

(c) These issues will be detrimental to automated radar plotting aids and alerts and also to human observers, who may genuinely be having difficulty in detecting a yacht in the very large area of sea to the horizon.

(d) It would be prudent to incur an additional cost and install an AIS transponder additional to, or incorporating an AIS receiver. If there is concern over sufficient battery power, the yacht owner should turn on the engine and thereby power the batteries.